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Teaching Geography: Workshop 5

Sub-Saharan Africa

Readings for Workshop 5

The following material comes from Chapter 4 of Geography for Life. You may read it here or in its complete form in your text. For additional readings, go to Resources.

The National Geography Standards for Workshop 5

The National Geography Standards highlighted in this workshop include Standards 9, 13, 15, and 16. As you read, be thinking about how the standards apply in lessons you may have taught.

Standard 9: The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth's surface.

Human population has increased dramatically over the last few centuries. In 1830, more than 900 million people inhabited Earth. As the twenty-first century approached, Earth's population was nearly six billion. At the same time, extraordinarily large and dense clusters of people are growing: Tokyo has already reached a population in excess of 25 million. The geographically informed person must understand that the growth, distribution, and movements of people on Earth's surface are the driving forces behind not only human events—social, cultural, political, and economic—but also certain physical events, such as large-scale flooding, resource depletion, and ecological breakdown.

Students need to develop an understanding of the interaction of the human and environmental factors that help to explain the characteristics of human populations, as well as their distribution and movements. The distribution and density of Earth's population reflect the planet's topography, soils, vegetation, and climate types (ecosystems); available resources; and level of economic development. Population growth rates are influenced by such factors as education (especially of women), religion, telecommunications, urbanization, and employment opportunities. Mortality rates are influenced by the availability of medical services, food, shelter, health services, and the overall age and sex distribution of the population.

Another key population characteristic is growth, which may be described in terms of fertility and mortality, crude birthrates and death rates, natural increase and doubling time, and population structure (age and sex distribution). These basic demographic concepts help bring focus to the human factors that explain population distributions and densities, growth patterns, and population projections. Population pyramids, for example, indicate the differential effects of past events, such as wars, disease, famine, improved sanitation, and vaccination programs, on birthrates and death rates and gender. An analysis of specific age cohorts enables predictions to be made. For example, a large proportion zero to 15 years old suggests rapid population, which will soon require significant resources to support the elderly. Both predictions could have significant geographic implications for a community; for example, a young population could create a need for more housing and schools, whereas an older population could create a need for more retirement and medical facilities. Such demographic analyses can be performed at all scales.

Almost every country is experiencing increased urbanization. Across Earth peasant and pastoral life is giving way to the more economically promising lure of life in cities, as people seeking better jobs or more income move to areas where opportunities are better. The majority of the world's people are moving toward a way of life that only a minority of people experienced less than a century ago. Population geographers predict that Tokyo, São Paulo, Bombay, Shanghai, Lagos, and Mexico City will be the 21st century's massive population centers. However, people in some developed countries are giving up the economic advantages of city life for the ease and attractions of suburbs and small towns, especially those with access to employment in metropolitan areas.

Migration is one of the most distinctive and visible characteristics of human populations, and it leads to significant reshaping of population distribution and character. It is a dynamic process that is constantly changing Earth's landscapes and modifying its cultures. It takes place at a variety of scales and in different contexts. At international scales geographers track the flows of immigrants and emigrants. At national scales they consider net regional balances of in- and out-migrants or the flows from rural to urban areas, which are a principal cause of urbanization. At a local scale they consider the continuous mobility of college students, retirees, and tourists or the changes of address that occur without necessarily resulting in a job change or change in friendship patterns.

The context of migration varies from voluntary and discretionary (the search for a better place to live), to voluntary but unavoidable (the search for a place to live), to involuntary and unavoidable (the denial of the right to choose a place to live).

In the two voluntary contexts, migration often results from the weighing of factors at the point of origin and at potential destinations against the costs (financial and emotional) of moving. "Pull" factors may make another place seem more attractive and therefore influence the decision to move. Other factors are unpleasant enough to "push" the migrant out of the local setting and toward another area. These factors reflect people's objective knowledge of places and also their secondhand impressions. As a consequence, many countries have experienced waves of people going from settled areas to new lands in the interior (e.g., the westward movement in the United States in the nineteenth century and the move from the southeast coast to the interior of Brazil starting in the 1960s, when the new capital city of Brasilia was built).

Voluntary and unavoidable migration occurs when much of a region's or country's population is impelled into migration streams, such as the millions of Irish who fled to the United States in the 1840s because of the potato famine or the millions of Somalis, Sudanese, and Rwandans who moved in the 1990s because of drought, famine, and civil war. However, some migrations are forced and involuntary. Such was the case with African Americans who were taken to North and South America in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries to work as slave laborers on sugar, cotton, and tobacco plantations.

Demographic shifts rearrange patterns of population and create new human landscapes. Natural increase, war, famine, and disease play decisive roles in influencing why many people live where they do. Migration sets people in motion as they leave one place, strike out for a second, and possibly settle in a third. Intervening obstacles influence the patterns of migration. Physical barriers such as deserts, mountains, rivers, and seas or cultural barriers such as political boundaries, languages, economic conditions, and cultural traditions determine how people move and where they settle.

It is essential that students develop an understanding of the dynamics of population characteristics, distributions, and migration, and in particular of how population distribution (in terms of size and characteristics) is linked to the components of fertility, mortality, and mobility.

Standard 13: How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of Earth's surface.

Competing for control of large and small areas of Earth's surface is a universal trait among societies and has resulted in both productive cooperation and destructive conflict between groups over time. The geographically informed person has a general understanding of the nature and history of the forces of cooperation and conflict on Earth and the spatial manifestation of these forces in political and other kinds of divisions of Earth's surface. This understanding enables the individual to perceive how and why different groups have divided, organized, and unified areas of Earth's surface.

Divisions are regions of Earth's surface over which groups of people establish control for purposes of politics, administration, religion, and economics. Each such region usually has an area, a name, and a boundary. In the past even small groups inhabiting vast territories divided space in accordance with their cultural values and life-sustaining activities. For them some spaces were sacred, others were devoted to hunting or gathering, and still others were intended for shelter and socializing. In present-day urban, industrial societies, earning a livelihood, owning or renting a home in a safe neighborhood, getting a drink of clean water, buying food, being able to travel safely within one's own community—all of these activities are linked to how Earth is divided by different groups for different purposes.

Often, conflicts over how to divide and organize parts of Earth's space have involved control of resources (e.g., Antarctica or the ocean floor), control of strategic routes (e.g., the Panama or Suez Canals or the Dardanelles), or the domination of other peoples (e.g., European colonialism in Africa). Language, religion, political ideologies, national origins, and race motivate conflicts over how territory and resources will be developed, used, and distributed. Conflicts over trade, human migration and settlement, and exploitation of marine and land environments reflect how Earth's surface is divided into fragments controlled by different political and economic interest groups.

The primary political division of Earth is by state sovereignty: a particular government is recognized by others as having supreme authority over a carefully delimited territory and the population and resources within that space. With the exception of Antarctica, Earth's surface is exhaustively partitioned by state sovereignty. These political divisions are recognized by the United Nations and its member states, which discuss and act on issues of mutual interest, especially international peace and security. However, the partitioning is not mutually exclusive. Some nations exert competing claims to certain areas (e.g., the islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, which are claimed by Great Britain as the Falkland Islands and by Argentina as the Malvinas).

Regional alliances among nations for military, political, cultural, or economic reasons constitute another form of the division of Earth's surface. Among these many alliances are the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Caribbean Community and Common Market, the Council of Arab Economic Unity, and the European Union. In addition, numerous multinational corporations divide Earth's space and compete with each other for resource development, manufacturing, and the distribution of goods and services. And nongovernmental organizations such as the International Red Cross and various worldwide religious groups divide space to administer their programs.

Events of the twentieth century illustrate that the division of Earth's surface among different groups pursuing diverse goals continues unabated at all scales of human activity. World wars, regional wars, civil wars, and urban riots often are manifestations of the intensity of feeling humans hold for the right to divide Earth according to their particular perceptions and values. Traditionally, most territorial disputes have been over the land surface, but with the increasing value of resources in the oceans and even outer space, political division of these spaces has become a topic of international debate. Cooperation and conflict will occur in all of these spatial contexts.

At smaller spatial scales, land-use zones in municipalities, administrative districts for airports and other essential services such as water supply and garbage disposal, and school districting within counties, states, and provinces are all examples of the local division of space. Franchise areas, regional divisions of national and multinational corporations, and free-trade zones indicate the economic division of space. City neighborhood associations, suburban homeowners' associations, civic and volunteer organization districts, and the divisions of neighborhood space by youth gangs on the basis of socioeconomic status, race, or national origin illustrate the power of social and cultural divisions of space.

The interlocking systems for dividing and controlling Earth's space influence all dimensions of people's lives, including trade, culture, citizenship and voting, travel, and self-identity. Students must understand the genesis, structure, power, and pervasiveness of these divisions to appreciate their role within a world that is both globally interdependent and locally controlled.

Standard 15: How physical systems affect human systems.

No matter what the spatial scale, Earth's surface presents a picture of physical diversity in terms of soils, climates, vegetation, and topography. That diversity offers a range of environmental contexts for people. The geographically informed person must understand how humans are able to live in various kinds of physical environments—not only those of the familiar mid-latitudes but also those that seem less conducive to intensive settlement such as the Arctic tundra and the Equatorial rain forest—and the role physical features of those environments play in shaping human activities.

To live in any given physical environment humans must develop patterns of spatial organization, which take advantage of opportunities offered and avoid or minimize the effects of limitations. Physical systems and environmental characteristics do not, by themselves, determine the pattern of human activity. If the incentives are great enough settlement is possible, although at great cost and risk. The trans-Alaska oil pipeline and construction techniques used in tundra-area settlements are evidence of the extent of human ingenuity. However, the environment does place limitations on human societies (e.g., a glaciated region with its complex of features—thin, rocky water-logged soils and unique landforms—offers few opportunities for commercial agriculture).

A central concept is the idea of carrying capacity: the maximum, sustained level of use of an environment that is possible without incurring significant environmental destruction. Environments vary in their carrying capacity, and people's failure to understand it—or their inability to live within it—can lead to environmental disaster. Cyclical environmental change, especially in semiarid environments, can pose particular problems for human use of that environment and can lead to desertification, famine, and mass migration, as has occurred in the Sahel of north-central Africa. The relationship between any environment and its inhabitants is mediated by decisions about how much to consume and in what ways to consume. Energy conservation, water conservation, and recycling can have significant effects on patterns of environmental use.

In modern times human have used technology as a means of reducing the potential effect of physical systems on human activity. In the United States, for example, the widespread introduction of air-conditioning has allowed people to relocate to the South and Southwest, regions previously considered less suited to settlement. And in various regions of Earth, use of the airplane has made it possible to establish settlements and industries in hitherto-inaccessible places. However, the use of technology to overcome physical impediments to human activity can also have wide-ranging and sometimes unexpected consequences. For instance, the attempt to control rivers by building dams and dredging waterways to prevent destructive and life-threatening floods can also lead to diminished soil replenishment, increased water salinity, reduced flow of sediment to oceans, and increased riverbank erosion.

In addition to carrying-capacity limitations, the physical environment often imposes significant costs on human society. Natural hazards are defined as processes or events in the physical environment that are not caused by humans but whose consequences can be harmful. They cost the United States billions of dollars each year. Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanoes, storms, floods, forest fires, and insect infestations are events that are not preventable and whose precise location, timing, and magnitude are not predictable. Their negative consequences can be reduced by understanding the potential vulnerability of different groups of people and by implementing a variety of strategies such as improved building design, land-use regulation, warning systems, and public education.

Whether the issue is the mitigation of a natural hazard or recognition of carrying capacity, students need to understand the characteristics and spatial properties of the physical environment. It is essential that they be able to translate an understanding of the physical processes and patterns that shape Earth's surface into a picture of that surface as a potential home for people. That home can hold only so many people or be used only in certain ways without incurring costs. Judgment as to the acceptability of those costs requires an understanding of environmental opportunities and constraints.

Standard 16: The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.

A resource is any physical material that constitutes part of Earth and which people need and value. There are three basic resources—land, water, and air—that are essential to human survival. However, any other natural material also becomes a resource if and when it becomes available to humans. The geographically informed person must develop an understanding of this concept and of the changes in the spatial distribution, quantity, and quality of resources on Earth's surface.

Those changes occur because a resource is a cultural concept, with the value attached to any given resource varying from culture to culture and period to period. Value can be expressed in economic or monetary terms, in legal terms (as in the Clean Air Act), in terms of risk assessment, or in terms of ethics (the responsibility to preserve our National Parks for future generations). The value of a resource depends on human needs and the technology available for its extraction and use. Rock oil seeping from rocks in northwestern Pennsylvania was of only minor value as a medicine until a technology was developed in the mid-nineteenth century that enabled it to be refined into a lamp illuminant. Some resources that were once valuable are no longer important. For example, it was the availability of pine tar and tall timber—strategic materials valued by the English navy—that in the seventeenth century helped spur settlement in northern New England, but that region now uses its vegetative cover (and natural beauty) as a different type of resource: for recreation and tourism. Resources, therefore, are the result of people seeing a need and perceiving an opportunity to meet that need.

The quantity and quality of a resource is determined by whether it is a renewable, a nonrenewable, or a flow resource. Renewable resources, such as plants and animals, can replenish themselves after they have been used if their physical environment has not been destroyed. If trees are harvested carefully, a new forest will grow to replace the one that was cut. If animals eat grass in a pasture to a certain level, grass will grow again and provide food for animals in the future, as long as the carrying capacity of the land if not exceeded by the pressure of too many animals. Nonrenewable resources, such as minerals and fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), can be extracted and used only once. Flow resources, such as water, wind, and sunlight, are neither renewable nor nonrenewable because they must be used as, when, and where they occur. The energy in a river can be used to generate electricity, which can be transmitted over great distances. However, that energy must be captured by turbines as the water flows past or it will be lost.

The location of resources influences the distribution of people and their activities on the Earth. People live where they can earn a living. Human migration and settlement are linked to the availability of resources, ranging from fertile soils and supplies of freshwater to deposits of metals or pools of natural gas. The patterns of population distribution that result from the relationship between resources and employment change as needs and technologies change. In Colorado, for example, abandoned mining towns reflect the exhaustion of nonrenewable resources (silver and lead deposits), whereas ski resorts reflect the exploitation of renewable resources (snow and scenery).

Technology changes the ways in which humans appraise resources, and it may modify economic systems and population distributions. Changes in technology bring into play new ranges of resources from Earth's stock. Since the industrial revolution, for example, technology has shifted from waterpower to coal-generated steam to petroleum-powered engines, and different resources and their source locations have become important. The population of the Ruhr Valley in Germany, for example, grew rapidly in response to the new importance of coal and minerals in industrial ventures. Similarly, each innovation in the manufacture of steel brought a new resource to prominence in the United States, and resulted in locational shifts in steel production and population growth.

Demands for resources vary spatially. More resources are used by economically developed countries than by developing countries. For example, the United States uses petroleum at a rate that is five times the world average. As countries develop economically, their demand for resources increases faster than their population grows. The wealth that accompanies economic development enables people to consume more. The consumption of a resource does not necessarily occur where the resource is produced or where the largest reserves of the resource are located. Most of the petroleum produced in Southwest Asia, for example, is consumed in the United States, Europe, and Japan.

Sometimes, users of resources feel insecure when they have to depend on other places to supply them with materials that are so important to their economy and standard of living. This feeling of insecurity can become especially strong if two interdependent countries do not have good political relations, share the same values, or understand each other. In some situations, conflict over resources breaks out into warfare. One factor in Japan's involvement in World War II, for example, was that Japan lacked petroleum resources of its own and coveted oil fields elsewhere in Asia, especially after the United States threatened to cut off its petroleum exports to Japan.

Conflicts over resources are likely to increase as demand increases. Globally, the increase in demand tends to keep pace with the increase in population. More people on Earth means more need for fertilizers, building materials, food, energy, and everything else produced from resources. Accordingly, if the people of the world are to coexist, Earth's resources must be managed to guarantee adequate supplies for everyone. That means reserves of renewable resources need to be sustained at a productive level, new reserves of nonrenewable resources need to be found and exploited, new applications for flow resources need to be developed, and, wherever possible, cost-effective substitutes—especially for nonrenewable resources—need to be developed.

It is essential that students have a solid grasp of the different kinds of resources; of the ways in which humans value and use (and compete over) resources; and of the distribution of resources across Earth's surface.

The above material is from Geography for Life: The National Geography Standards, 1994, The Geography Education Standards Project. Reprinted with the permission of the National Geographic Society.